Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Charles Bernstein's Writing Prompts

Charles Bernstein

Diary/Free Writing & Extensions


• Write a poem in which you try to transcribe as accurately as you can your thoughts while you are writing. Don't edit anything out. Write as fast as you can without planning what you are going to say.

• Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.

• Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour.

• Brainard's Memory: Write a poem all of whose lines start "I remember ..." (Cf.: Joe Brainard's I Remember.)

• Write a poem just when you are on the verge of falling asleep. Write a line a day as you are falling asleep or waking up. (Cf.: Ron Silliman's ®.)

• Dream work: Write down your dreams as the first thing you do every morning for 30 days. Apply translation and aleatoric processes to this material. Double the length of each dream. Weave them together into one poem, adding or changing or reordering material. Negate or reverse all statements ("I went down the hill" to "I went up the hill," "I didn't" to "I did"). Borrow a friend's dreams and apply these techniques to them.

• Sprung Diary: Write a diary tracking and intercutting multiple levels of thoughts, experiences, anticipations, expectations, from minute to major. (Cf.. Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal.)

• "Walking on Colors": Walk a city block or a country mile paying attention as much as possible to one color; list allt he things found in this one color; write about it.

3. Feb. 23 Imitations

• Exercise: Write several poems in the style of a selected poem or poet. Try to make some as close to the original as possible, and others in the mode of, "after". Pick a poet you like and also one you dislike. Messerli anthology recommend as source: read in, around and through. Try quick imitations of newly encountered poets or those in reading set:

4. March 2 Fakes

Writing: Create your own fake

5. March 9 Invented structures

6. March 16 Prose

• Exercise: Serial sentences: Select one sentence each from a variety of different books or other sources. Add sentences of your own composition. Combine into one paragraph, reordering to produce the most interesting results.

9. April 6 Visual poems

• Visual poetry: write poems with strong visual or "concrete" elements - including a combination of lexical and nonlexical (pictorial) elements. Play with alphabets and typography, placement of words on the page, etc.

• Collaboration: Write poems with one or more other people, alternating lines (chaining or renga), writing simultaneously and collaging, rewriting, editing, supplementing the previous version. This can be done in person, via e-mail, or through "snail" mail.

10. April 20 Homophonic Translation & Beyond:


• Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else's, then your own) and translate it "English to English" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. (Cf.: Six Fillious by bp nichol, Steve McCaffery, Robert Fillious, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Dieter Roth.)

• Homophonic translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate the sound of the poem into English (i.e., French "blanc" to blank or "toute" to toot). (Cf.: Louis and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus.) (Rewrite to suit?)

• Lexical translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate it word for word with the help of a bilingual dictionary. (Rewrite to suit?)

• Backwards: Reverse or alter the line sequence of a poem of your own or someone else's. Reverse the word order. Rather than reverse, scramble.

11. April 27 Ideolect/Dialect & between

• Compose using nonlexical units, dialect, ideolect, vernacular

• Transcription: Tape a phone or live conversation between yourself and a friend. Make a poem composed entirely of transcribed parts.

12. May 4 Poetics

Writing: write an ars poetica or other short work of poetics

13. May 11 The Art of the Book and Magazine

Bring in example of a book, invent a book structure for your work.

14. May 18 Last Class

Further Experiments:
• Acrostic chance: Pick a book at random and use title as acrostic key phrase. For each letter of key phrase go to page number in book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as first line of poem from the first word that begins with that letter to end of line or sentence. Continue through all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word. (Cf.: Jackson Mac Low's Stanzas for Iris Lezak.) Variations include using author's name as code for reading through her or his work, using your own or friend's name, picking different kinds of books for this process, devising alternative acrostic procedures.

• Tzara's hat: Everyone in a group writes down a word (alternative: phrase, line) and puts it in a hat. Poem is made according to the order in which it is randomly pulled from hat. (Solo: pick a series of words or lines from books, newspapers, magazines to put in the hat.)

• Burroughs’ fold-in: Take two different pages from a newspaper or magazine article, or a book, and cut the pages in half vertically. Paste the mismatched pages together. (Cf.: William Burroughs's The Third Mind.)

• Write a poem and cut it somewhere in the middle, then recombine with the beginning part following the ending part.

• General cut-ups: Write a poem composed entirely of phrases lifted from other sources. Use one source for a poem and then many; try different types of sources: literary, historical, magazines, advertisements, manuals, dictionaries, instructions, travelogues, etc.

• Cento: Write a collage made up of full-lines of selected source poems.

• Substitution (1): "Mad libs." Take a poem (or other source text) and put blanks in place of three or four words in each line, noting the part of speech under each blank. Fill in the blanks being sure not to recall the original context.

• Substitution (2): "7 up or down." Take a poem or other, possibly well-known, text and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index word in the dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement. (Cf.: Clark Coolidge and Larry Fagin, On the Pumice of Morons.)

• Substitution (3): "Find and replace." Systematically replace one word in a source text with another word or string of words. Perform this operation serially with the same source text, increasing the number of words in the replace string

• Alphabet poems: make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Write another alphabet poem but scramble the letter order.

• Alliteration (assonance): Write a poem in which all the words in each line begin with the same letter.

• Doubling: Starting with one sentence, write a series of paragraphs each doubling the number of sentences in the previous paragraph and including all the words used previously. (Cf.: Ron Silliman's Ketjak)

• Write a poem consisting entirely of things you'd like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.

• Write a poem consisting entirely of overheard conversation.

• Nonliterary forms: Write a poem in the form of an index, a table of contents, a resume, an advertisement for an imaginary or real product, an instruction manual, a travel guide, a quiz or examination, etc.

• Write a poem without mentioning any objects.

• Erasure: Take a poem of your own or someone else's and cross out most of the words on each poem, retype what remains as your poem. (Cf.: Ronald Johnson's RADI OS from Milton.)

• Write a series of ten poems going from one to ten words in each poem. Reorder.

• Write a poem composed entirely of questions.

• Write a poem made up entirely of directions.

• Write a poem consisting only of opening lines (improvise your own lines, then use source texts).

• Write a poem consisting only of prepositions, then of prepositions and one other part of speech.

• Write a series of eight-word lines consisting of one each of each part of speech.

• Write a poem consisting of one-word lines; write a poem consisting of two-word lines; write a poem consisting of three-word lines.

• Synchronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur simultaneously.

• Diachronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur in different places and at different times.

• Counting: Write poems that conform to various numeric patterns for number of words in a line or sentence, number of lines in a stanza or paragraph, number of stanzas or paragraphs in a work. Alternately, count letters or syllables. Use complex numeric series or simpler fixed-number patterns.

• List poem 1: Write a poem consisting of favorite words or phrases collected over a period of time; pick your favorite words from a particular book.

• List poem 2: write a poem consisting entirely of a list of "things", either homogenous or heterogeneous (common lists include shopping lists, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists, lists of events, lists of names, ...).

• Chronology: Make up a list of dates with associated events, real or imagined.

• Canceling: Write a series of lines or rhymes such that every other one cancels the one before ("I come before you / to stand behind you").

• Write a series of stanzas or poems while listening to music; change type of music for each stanza or poem.

• Elimination: Cut out the second half of sentences.

• Excuses list: Write a poem made up entirely of excuses.

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